Wednesday, 13 July 2011


I am back at John Benbow's Food at 52 for another of his excellent cooking classes (see here for an account of the Thai Cooking course), this time exploring Southern Indian cuisine. Think of the South of India: verdant, lush vegetation; sleepy backwaters; gently leaning coconut palms loaded with fruit; long pristine beaches. The Food at 52 class is similarly relaxed, yet also stimulating, with new ideas, techniques and flavours at every turn, as well as a range of unusual gadgets (the fearsome harpoon-like object for stripping out coconut flesh is everyone's favourite). Before long, we are chopping, stirring, cooking and tasting, following John's clear, knowledgeable guidance.

First we make Spinach Vadai (deep fried dal doughnuts stuffed with onion, spices, coriander and spinach), and Aubergine Chutney (a deep green, coriander-infused sauce).  Vadai are ideal for scooping up the soft green chutney. 
Spinach Vadai

Meanwhile, a Fish Curry is bubbling away; this combines monk fish, prawns and green mango slices in a mildly spicy yoghurt sauce. Although Southern Indian food is largely vegetarian, Kerala, being Christian, includes meat and fish in its cuisine.
Fish Curry with Green Mango
One of the real pleasures of Food at 52 is that you eat what you cook, so we break for a mid-morning snack before going on to the next phase.
A light snack of rice, vadai, chutney and fish curry
Initially, this involves frying and grinding several types of dal to create a range of pastes.  Into these we stir a variety of flavours and vegetables to make up: Beet Pachadi (a bright pink, spicy beetroot dish), Aubergine Rasvangy, Moru Kachiathu with Plaintain (a kind of spicy fruit salad in yoghurt) and Snake Bean Thoran.
Aubergine Rasvangy

Snake Bean Thoran
Almost the first task on arrival had been to stir together a batter of ground rice, water, ground coconut flesh and a bit of yeast; this was then put to one side to ferment for several hours. Now it is bubbly and sour, ready to be made into appams, little rice disks not unlike very thin crumpets in texture.  The batter is simply griddled in the same way as making pancakes.  Like Vadai, these are brilliant for scooping up sauces.
Making appams
Everything is now virtually ready, so we are sent away with a couple of bottles of wine while the kitchen is transformed into a dining room. Jackie, who has spent the entire day tirelessly whisking away dirty plates, dishes and utensils and washing them up, does a final sweep through and prepares the table for our Southern Indian feast.
Food at 52
Glasses in hand, we reassemble, ready to test the products of our strenuous labours. It goes a bit quiet, as we taste this, nibble that, scoop up the sauce with an appam or two.  Then a buzz of excited comments spreads around the group.

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